Imagine other possibilities of being alive! Imagine ruptures and openings in spaces of suffering. Imagine other shapes and genres of being human. Imagine other futures! Vunja means rupture or breakage and also colloquially denotes ‘dance’ in Swahili. It is a research/art/social justice/carnival project that celebrates black, invisible and marginalized bodies by attending to startling potentials for wiser worlds in their very conditions of exception.
Vunja is an invitation to imaginaries too radical to be articulated within the confines of the nation-state. Imaginaries beyond hope. Imaginaries beyond our lexicon. Imaginaries beyond the familiar future promised by the status quo. Imaginaries beyond imagination. It is a call to attend to our fleshly bodies, to dwell in the cracks in the highway, and open up other places of power.
As a particular analysis of modernity, a research project and inquiry into decolonization practices, a network of shared interests and yearnings, an assemblage of social technologies and rituals, and an annual Festival devoted to the celebration of the “otherwise” (potentially wiser ways of being alive that thread through economics, politics, education and our bodies), Vunja is a multi-lateral sci-art project of the Anthropocene designed to instigate ‘new’ practices and knowledges that undercut colonial futures and might help us shapeshift from the forms we are familiar with.
Specifically, the word “Vunja” is Kiswahili for “rupture” or “breakage”, and is also contextually employed to signify “dancing” in a song of old. One might even think of Vunja as “breakdancing”, the irreverent and athletic form of street dance developed by young African Americans in the 60s and 70s. Like breakdancing, Vunja is an aesthetic of decolonization and emancipation – a way of disturbing the order of things so that still-unknown possibilities can be noticed.
Vunja is also tied to the Yoruba deity, Yemoja, who is the ‘Orisa’ closely associated with emergence and motherhood – as well as to Esu, the trickster deity who sits at the crossroads and whose playful interventions are the engine of reality’s ongoing creativity and complexity. Esu traveled with the New World slaves along the Middle Passage from West Africa to the Americas. It is believed that Esu inspired subversive and ironic activisms that undercut both the identities of the slavemaster and the enslaved. Vunja borrows from this aesthetic of irony, and seeks other ways of framing humanity in a time of trouble.
Much has been written about the troubles of our days, about climate change and ocean acidification, about the failing promises of modernity, about the hollowness of jobs, about the failures of our political systems, about migration and the controversial rise of weaponized walls, about the colonial legacies of schooling, about poverty, property and human rights. To these connected crises, modern nation-states and institutions offer temporary relief: the spectacle of a “better future” via citizenship.
Hope in this future – a future of sustainable development, of justice, of prosperity, and of technological ease – rises and falls on the presumption that this future is universally desirable, and that the present socio-political arrangement merely needs minute adjustments or reform in order to be radically inclusive. Even the most transformative proposals along the political spectrum rest on the same assumptions that power the modern nation-state and its processes of creating subjects. As such, most activist work is framed in terms of increasing inclusion and reducing exclusion – about letting more people into the halls of power.
But should we strive to get a larger piece of a carcinogenic pie? Aren’t there other places of power and other gestures towards emancipation beyond being included in troubling definitions of ‘humanity’? What is often not noticed is the contingency of business-as-usual and the violence embedded in the everyday. What is often not said loudly enough is that this hope in a “better future” hides stunning costs: the bodies and lives of the marginalized, racialized, not-quite-human ‘others’ at the margins, the New World plantations, the refugee camps, the favelas and slums. The broken bodies of the marginalized subsidize our global political order, and the state – by its very dynamics of upholding a particular notion of what it means to be properly human – continues to generate the conditions of exception it ‘pretends’ to seek resolutions to. It is towards these bodies and their carnal accounts that we now turn.
Drawing from black feminist scholarship and indigenous ontologies, Vunja is premised on the ethics of appreciating that there are other genres of “human”, other genres of hope, other temporalities, and other futures. Vunja turns its attention to the underground cultural practices of New World slaves in their response to enslavement and colonization. We are motivated by the idea that within the conditions of exception that statehood and white normativity generates, there is vitality. There is life of a different order even in the bare lands. In a time when the highway no longer leads to interesting places, perhaps we must pay attention to the cracks instead. To the ruptures in the middle, not solely the promise of rapture at the end of the road. Perhaps there are potentialities for living that we are being invited to consider. Perhaps to dwell in the margins, in the states of exception and ‘bare life,’ is to occupy other places of power.
The Vunja social sci-art project is a curated assemblage of multiple yearnings put together to do the following:
a) Conduct action research into the matters, conditions, theories, discourses and practices that characterize the lives of the marginalized and the potentials for emancipation in the dire moments of the Anthropocene.
b) Connect projects, platforms and organizations concerned with social justice and responsivity in the Anthropocene in an alliance aesthetic that instigates sharing and cross-fertilization of practices.
c) Convene events, festivals, gatherings and meetups that celebrate the otherwise, the more-than-human, the affinity of the marginalized with the nonhuman, queer temporalities, the radical creativity of the universe that disrupts colonial claims to foundationalism, and ruptures in the fabric of whiteness.
d) Curate an assortment of in situ practices, rituals, methods and technologies that are living examples of decolonial openings to new shapes, new genres, and new imaginations of the “human”.
HERE ARE THE PRINCIPLES GUIDING THE ‘VUNJA’ PROJECT AND OUR WORK EXPLORING OTHER PLACES OF POWER WITH THE WORLD: